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Why a great Chianti estate adopts Cabernet Franc

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Chianti Classico estate Tenuta di Arceno has transformed its flagship wine into pure Cabernet Franc as the estate is betting on this French varietal for the long haul.

The view over Tenuta di Arceno towards Monte Amiata in the distance

As part of a broader shift towards single varietal winemaking, the Tenuta di Arceno estate – a 1,000 hectare property with 92 ha of vines in the rolling landscape of Castelnuovo Berardenga in Chianti – the most beloved of the producer, a Toscana IGT called Arcanum, has become a Cabernet Franc variety.

It started with the 2016 vintage and happened by chance, but continued with all subsequent wines made for the $100 Arcanum label, which currently sells a pure 2017 Cabernet Franc, although the previous vintage is always available.

Meanwhile, another fine expression of the estate, called Valdorna – which is also a Toscana IGT – has gone from a Bordeaux blend to a single varietal Merlot, starting with the 2018 vintage, and using only the oldest blocks. and the best of this variety. Meanwhile, the best Chianti Classico in Tenuta di Arceno, the Strada al Sasso Gran Selezione, is pure Sangiovese.

Arcanum was launched with the 2008 vintage as a blend of around 70% Cabernet Franc, the rest being Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, and more recently Petit Verdot as well.

But in 2016, when the blend was made up of many wines from across the estate, tasted blind, it turned out that the chosen components were all from the same grape variety.

The selection was made by Pierre Seillan, the Bordeaux winemaker of Jackson Family Wines, owner of Tenuta di Arceno after the late Jess Jackson and Barbara Banke bought the property in 1994.

Seillan, who oversees wines from the Château Lassègue group’s Saint-Emilion estate, and Sonoma Vérité’s flagship brand, also visits Tenuta di Arceno on an annual basis to work with its resident winemaker, Lawrence Cronin, on blends.

Commenting on the shift to transforming Tenuta di Arceno’s finest wine into a Cabernet Franc grape, Cronin said that although it happened by accident rather than design, the property had planted increasing amounts of French grapes due to its suitability for the region.

Having moved from the United States to Italy to take over winemaking at Tenuta di Arceno in 2002, Cronin said db this week that it was “logical” to go for a pure Cabernet Franc, having increased the plantings by 2ha when it arrived at the estate at 17ha today.

Not only that, but with Cabernet Franc planted at 12 sites – which encompass different soils and elevations across the expansive estate – although Arcanum is now made with a single varietal, the wine can retain its complexity through different vineyard expressions. .

As for the philosophy behind the switch to varietal wines, Cronin said db“We wanted more of a direct line between the wine and the vines.”

With specific regard to Cabernet Franc, he observed that it is a grape that seems particularly well suited to this southern end of Chianti Classico, responding well to the region’s more variable weather conditions.

While early-ripening Merlot can suffer from excessive alcohol levels due to heat waves and Sangiovese is susceptible to drought, Cronin said Cabernet Franc seems to cope with climatic extremes relatively unfazed.

Indeed, he said the grapes from this year’s harvest, one of the hottest and driest on record, produced some of the “best reservoirs I have ever seen”, adding: “We have lots of postcards.

Tenuta di Arceno actually produces three Toscana IGT wines, with Arcanum and Valdorna joined by another label called Il Fauno, named after a sculpture on the estate (pictured below), which depicts a figure with the body of a human and the legs of a faun.

As both former wines are now single varietal expressions, Il Fauno, which has always been a blend of French varietals, dominated by approximately 50% Merlot, as well as Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, will remain a blend .

And this wine, which is the lowest priced of the estate’s Toscana IGT labels, will benefit from grapes that are no longer used in the other two more expensive expressions.

As Tenuta di Arceno brand ambassador Pepe Schib said dbthis will raise the quality of Il Fauno.

“Il Fauno will no longer be a ‘Super Tuscan’ baby, but the real thing,” he commented.